The scope of our languages covers both Modern Standard Arabic and most of its dialects spoken in 22 Arab League countries. Our team consists of professionals whom we have been with us for years. The in-house linguists translate and revise translation in MSA and Egyptian dialect and work closely with translators from other Arab countries to provide a required local dialect Subject Matter Expertise. To learn more about which materials are translated into MSA and which ones into particular dialects, please visit our FAQ page.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) vs. Dialects

Arabic is a Semitic language spoken in a large area including North Africa, most of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant. There are 22 countries where Arabic is either an official or one of the official languages and the total number of Arabic speakers is estimated at over 300 million.It is an official UN language and it is expected that by 2015 Arabic will be the forth-most used language on the internet.

Arabic is the language of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, and the religious language of all Muslims. It comes in several variants:

  • Modern Standard Arabic- an adapted form of Classical Arabic, modernized to the speech of today. Although this form of the language is shared by all Arabic countries, it is only used in documents, media, press, books, mosquesand international or official events. The spoken Arabic used in each of the 22 countries varies not only between the countries themselves, but inside each country as well. This situation is called ‘diglossia’in linguistics and refers to two dialects or related languages used by a single language community. The speakers choose one language form on certain occasions and the other one in different situations.
  • Arabic dialects - there are several main groups of Arabic dialects than can be divided according to geographical regions: 

    • Levantine dialects– spoken in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Western Jordan
    • Iraqi Arabic
    • Arabian dialects- primarily spoken in Saudi Arabia
    • Gulf dialects– spoken in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and Oman
    • Yemeni Arabic
    • Maghreb dialects- present in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Western Libya
    • Egyptian Arabic– the most widely understood Arabic dialect, mainly thanks to popular Egyptian films and music broadly spread across the Middle East

The grammar structure of all Arabic dialects is much simpler than the standard form and the vocabulary differs from one country to another. Some Arabic dialects exist in areas so far from each other that it makes them mutually unintelligible. Therefore MSA remains the only commonly shared Arabic form understood by Arabic speakers from the different Middle East regions.

Arabic – basic facts

Arabic belongs to the Semitic language family which themselves are a part of a wider Afro-Asiatic language group. Semitic languages were originally based in the Levant, the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula. The earliest Arabic inscriptions date back to 7th century BC, but it wasn’t until 9th century AD that Arabic  became the administrative language of the Islamic empire.

The Arabic spoken today started taking its modern shape at the end of the 18th century, when the concept of universal education, western literature translation and Enlightenment practices began to spread in the Middle East.

The alphabet consists of 28 consonants and 3 vowels and the word formation and inflectional system are very logical. Words are created by combining 3-consonant or 4-consonant roots with vowels. Depending on the pattern of the vowels, often combined with other suffixes and prefixes, the word is given its meaning. For example, the consonantal root ‘k-t-b’ will represent the concept of ‘writing’. Depending on what vowels are added to the root, there are numerous words that can be created:

‘kātib’ – ‘writer’

‘kitāb’– ‘book’

‘kutub’ – ‘books’

‘kitāba’ – ‘writing’

‘katab’ – ‘he wrote’

‘kātab’ – ‘he corresponded’

There are 2 tenses in Arabic (past and present), 2 voices (active and passive) and 15 verb classes(although not all of them are used). The words order in a sentence is VSO (verb, subject, object). Arabic is also one of the languages that have 3 number categories – singular, plural and dual (for expressing 2 items or action done by more than 1 person).


One should be careful when talking about numbers in Arabic, especially during translation into that language. There is a difference between numerals known in the West as Arabic (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0) and Hindi numerals which are actually used in the Arabic language (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0). Therefore, this issue must be always discussed and clarified during translation or localization process.

Romanization/Transcription/Transliteration of Arabic – what’s the difference?

Arabic is one of many languages whose written alphabet doesn’t use Roman characters. In order to make Arabic script readable for non-Arabic speakers, it has to be Romanisedwritten using Latin letters. In the case of Arabic, Romanization is identical with Transcription, which is a written representation of all sounds found in the spoken language

Transcription, though, differs from Transliteration in the number of represented characters. A transliterated text will only consist of letters found in the Arabic script, and won’t include additional sounds that are produced when speaking Arabic. And taking into consideration the fact that some vowels pronounced in spoken Arabic are not represented by letters, but by a different type of signs, transliterated texts vary greatly from transcribed documents.

The example below will explain that difference:

The Arabic word مُهَنْدِسون stands for ‘engineers’. The transcription of this word is:‘muhandisūn’.

The transliteration, however, wouldn’t include some vowels that don’t have a letter-shape representation. Therefore the word will look like this: ‘mhndsūn’.

There are several systems and standards of Arabic transliteration, which have been developed by various standardization organizations and academic centres. They are mostly used by linguists in professional publications, and differ a bit from common Roman letters by having diacrtic marks like dots or lines added to them(e.g. ā, ġ or ḏ). However, the most common transcriptions are those that don’t use any marks and the Arabic sounds are transcribed by combining several Latin characters (e.g. ā = aa, ġ =gh, ḏ = dh).


The third way of transcribing/transliterating Arabic text is a combination of Roman letters and numbers. This method is not an officially acknowledged transcription, but is used by the majority of Arabic speakers in messaging, blogs and social media. Here, the sounds characteristic only for Arabic are replaced by numbers.

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